By E. Michael Allen, BrandSource

With 2019 coming to a close, the time is ripe to devise your 2020 marketing plan.

Most industry veterans would agree that the home furnishings sector — including furniture, mattresses and appliances — is driven by events-based marketing and promotions. And while some worry that this approach can create peaks and valleys in a retailer’s business, others argue that this concern is predicated on a lack of understanding about the true definition of this practice.

Proponents of event-based marketing point out that some people misunderstand the meaning of event-based marketing, believing it refers to specific dates. The “event,” however, refers to the activity or change in the customer or prospect and can be any action, activity or change with a customer or prospect that could trigger new buying decisions.

According to a report by Eventricity, it’s not uncommon for businesses to achieve 30 percent or higher customer response rates when using event-based marketing, and promotions guru Phillip M. Gutsell, president and owner of GutSELL & Associates, says compelling promotions and events can drive a retailer’s business all year long.

“When I meet with a client, I first ask them about their proven winners,” Gutsell said. “It is a given that we will keep these, but then we talk about events, sales and promotions we can go beyond the major holiday sales.”

“For example, January is a natural time for an annual selloff/sellout promotion. It helps the retailer get rid of older stock and also frees up warehouse space for new inventory,” he explained.

But the week after Christmas can also be a prime yet often overlooked selling period. In fact, added Gutsell, it has been so successful for many retailers that it has become known as the “13th month.”

Another effective promotion is one that suggests urgency. “My clients do a great job when they hold 12-hour sales,” Gutsell noted. “That sense of urgency typically drives traffic into the store.”

Regardless of the promotion, however, Gutsell stresses that the retailer should never cut corners. “Sadly, I’ve seen retailers fail with what should have been a great promotion because they didn’t want to spend the money to put big signs out front or invest some money in direct mail to go out ahead of the event,” he said.

The good news, he continued, is that there is no shortage of successful promotions that can be used throughout the year. “You can hold a floor sample sale, a friends and family sale, a special factory buyout sale, or a bonus sale, where the customer gets an item free with purchase of another item. There are so many more — the retailer is only limited by his or her creativity and ability to execute,” Gutsell said.

Dwight Horne, president of Clinton Appliance & Furniture, a successful 67-year-old store in Clinton, NC, has a successful track record of utilizing clever promotions and events to drive his business.

“We sign on to all the big sales—July 4th, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Black Friday, which we run through November, and all the rest — but we also tie in to two other very successful events,” he shared.

One event, which he has successfully held for more than 50 years, is his back-door sale. “This one is a private, by-invitation-only event, where we send invitation letters to select customers,” Horne explained. “They had to come into the store via the back door. We did that up until about five years ago, when we realized it was getting a bit stale. They come in through the front door now, but we still call it the back-door sale.”

The store opens at 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, and customers are checked in as they arrive. But instead of being just a one-day event, the sale now runs all week long.

“We also send out winning numbers ahead of the sale,” Horne added. “So even customers who didn’t have a winning number can still come in and use their number to enter a drawing for prizes.”

As to the effectiveness of the back-door event, Horne said it generates a month’s worth of revenue in one week’s time.

The other major event utilized by Clinton Appliance & Furniture is a tent sale. The company sets up a 20×40-foot tent and offers customers great deals on scratch-and-dent goods, trade-ins, refurbished products and more.

Horne said the tent sale has a proven track record for generating “lots of traffic” and subsequently freeing up valuable warehouse space.

The success of these events has played a part in the retailer’s recent 5,000-square-foot expansion, which increased the store’s footprint to some 27,000 square feet.

And while Horne credits his robust menu of events and promotions for the store’s ongoing success, he is quick to point out that “More and more of our sales are coming from consumers finding us online via our website.”

Realizing this, the retailer currently allocates about half of the store’s advertising budget to online initiatives including Facebook, Twitter and Google.

“We’ve gotten lots of help in this area from AVB’s marketing team,” Horne said.

Seth Weisblatt, Director of Furniture at BrandSource, isn’t surprised by AVB Marketing’s digital’s draw. “We do digital, social… the whole package,” he said. “We’ve found our members really benefit from the collective way we can help them organize their social media while at the same time sharing our knowledge that we glean from our successful marketing initiatives.”

Weisblatt and the team presently manage more than 500 websites and numerous digital strategies for the members, with that number growing steadily.

“We have a very unique system that is bringing our members incredible levels of success with an approach that does not exist in other parts of the industry,” Weisblatt said.

BrandSource members such as Big Sandy, which began working with Weisblatt’s team over a year ago, have not only enjoyed outstanding results but have also saved substantial amounts of money by using the not-for-profit co-op to help them with their marketing.

“Since we operate on a break-even budget, we are able to pass the savings on to our members, which leaves them with more dollars to spend on marketing rather than overhead,” Weisblatt explained.

As a former retailer, Weisblatt knows better than most what members need to be successful in their marketing efforts.  “With that in mind, we do group buys, provide different packages and also offer major promotions to our members every quarter,” he said.

He added, “By offering a true soup-to-nuts marketing option our goal is to provide our customers with the best visibility and highest average tickets possible.”   

E. Michael Allen is VP Home Furnishings of BrandSource, a unit of YourSourceNews publisher AVB Inc.